Key suspect testifies that Kherson regional head commissioned savage killing of Katya Handziuk
One of the key suspects in the killing of Kherson activist Kateryna Handziuk has given crucial testimony which backs the prosecution’s charge that it was Vladyslav Mykhailovych Manher, Head of the Kherson Regional Council, who commissioned the savage acid attack on Handziuk, and Oleksiy Levin who organized it.
It was only publicly reported on 18 September that Ihor Pavlovsky had reached a deal with the investigators, with his part of the agreement clearly including not only his full admission of guilt, but also the testimony he gave to the Prymorsky District Court in Odesa on 1 October. Pavlovsky stated that Oleksiy Levin had mentioned several times that it was ‘Mykhailovych’ who had commissioned the attack on Handziuk, and that in one conversation, when Pavlovsky had questioned who this Mykhailovych was, Levin had specifically named Manher.
Pavlovsky also told the court that both he and his daughter had on several occasions received threats from Manher, and asserted that this was the reason that back in December 2019, he had told the court that Manher and Levin were innocent. He also gave details about the men currently serving sentences for carrying out the attack, and their earlier role, effectively as ‘titushki’ or paid thugs, countering a protest against illegal tree-felling.
If the Graty correspondent reporting on the hearing is right, then Pavlovsky actually reached a deal with the prosecution a year ago, with this around the time that, under former Deputy Prosecutor General Viktor Trepak, real progress began to be made in the case. At the time of the attack on Handziuk, Pavlovsky was in constant contact with the law enforcement bodies in Kherson, and was also an aide to an MP from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc. Although his name had been mentioned earlier in connection with the acid attack on 31 July 2018, it was only after Katya’s death on 4 November that year, and after activists from the initiative ‘Who ordered Katya Handziuk’s death?’ demanded action, that Pavlovsky was arrested. If the deal was reached then, it was kept very secret, with Katya’s father, Viktor Handziuk and activists investigating the killing having repeatedly expressed anger over the apparent sabotage in the charges against him.
Although released from custody over the charges linked with Handziuk’s death, Pavlovsky was arrested in January of this year on different charges. He is currently in custody, accursed of organizing and leading a criminal gang in Kherson which carried out acts of violence and set fire to activists’ cars, in order to intimidate them into abandoning their civic activism.
33-year-old Handziuk was an assistant to the Mayor of Kherson and a well-known civic activist, who was fearless in exposing police and local authority corruption. She was attacked outside the entrance to her apartment block on 31 July, 2018, with the assailant hurling a litre of the acid used in car batteries at her. She received burns to almost 40% of her body and needed to be airlifted to a hospital in Kyiv where she underwent 11 operations. Although she died over three months later, on 4 November 2018, her father, who is a doctor, has said that he understood from the outset how little hope there was that she would get through.
There have been repeated hiccups in this investigation and it was essentially thanks to her father, friends and fellow activists that an innocent man was not falsely charged and that real progress was made in identifying not only the real perpetrators, but also those believed to have commissioned the horrific attack. On 6 June, 2019, Serhiy Torbin was convicted of having coordinated the attack and jailed for 6.5 years. Mykola Hrabchuk got 6 years for having carried out the attack. Volodymyr Vasyanovych and Vyacheslav Vyshnevsky were jailed for 4 years, Viktor Horbunov – for 3 over their roles in the crime. The very significant reduction in charges against them resulted in similarly reduced charges against Manher and Levin. Manher continues to hold a very high post in the Kherson oblast, one normally carrying a considerable amount of influence.
The arrest in Bulgaria was announced on 24 January 2020 of Oleksiy Levin (Moskalenko). It came a year after he fled abroad and shortly after the mass operation in Kherson oblast and the laying of new charges against Pavlovsky.
The Prosecutor General’s Office had informed Manher that he was suspected of ordering Handziuk’s killing back in February 2019. He was remanded in custody, however paid the substantial bail imposed and was released immediately. The charge against him was changed on 25 April 2019 to “commissioning the inflicting of bodily injuries”.
Manher was again remanded in custody, but this time without the possibility of bail, in June 2020. The proceedings lasted a whole week, and involved the SBU [Security Service] bringing the politician to Kyiv by force from the hospital ward which he was admitted to after failing to appear at the scheduled court hearing. An investigation was announced into the actions of doctors from the Kherson Regional Cardiology Clinic who had claimed that Manher was too ill to be moved, as well as the actions of those individuals who tried to prevent the police and prosecutor from entering the clinic.
The prosecution had applied to the court for Manher’s detention, accusing him of threatening witnesses in the case. Complaints of this had arisen after Manher and his lawyers were able to read the material in the case.
Manher remains in custody, but has yet to have been removed from his post as head of the Kherson Regional Council.